In this post I’m going to talk about how us as adults/parents can assist the helpless baby that is in horizontal posture to become an intrepid explorer on his own two feet as described by Paula Polk Lillard in Montessori From the start book (refer to chapter five).
Lillard explains a second birth occurs when the child learns to crawl enabling him to move about in the environment and detach from her parents. This voluntary separation results in acquiring independence in the movement of the whole body. Before the child can move the muscles of the arms, legs, and back, the neurons controlling such muscles must be myelinated. Each child has their own unique timetable for this process. Once the myelination is formed the brain starts to send message to those muscles and causes movement. The information gained as a result of such movement is sent back to the brain. Such alternating action results in purposeful movement rather than aimless movement. The strength of large muscles unlike the formation of myelina can be influenced by outer circumstances. Such strength is developed by repetition of movement. This is where we can help the child by providing stimulation in the environment to arise her interest to move freely without any obstacles.
What are some obstacles in the path towards independent in movement:
1) Confining infants in things such as cribs, playpens, high chairs, infant seats, jumpy seats, car seats, baby swings, walkers, strollers, backpacks, slings, and so forth. Infants need time on the floor to develop important skills of movement. Among all above car seat is the only one that is needed for safety but even that should be used minimal (shorter trips and less often). Some of the above manufactured items were developed for safety, some for convenience of us adults, and some just falsely thought to be good for children’s skill development.
2)Dressing children for admiration/show rather than ease of movement and comfort, e.g. long dresses or heavy jeans vs clothes that are made of natural fabric and does not bind, with no big buttons or bows, a cotton undershirt with cloth diaper and a nappy cover on the top would be best, if it is cold a lightweight wool sweater on a long sleeve undershirt with some soft cotton legging (refer to Chapter 7 for a full detail of appropriate clothing that supports free movement )
3) Rushing children to reach those milestones. This is what our response and attitude is towards the child’s progress in movement, e.g. propping up an infant to sit when their back muscles not strong enough for that purpose and she can not get herself up to sitting position on her own, pulling her up to stand when her bones are not ready, holding her hands to walk when she is obviously not ready to do so by herself or even carrying her around when she can walk by herself. When doing such actions we are sending a message that her effort is not good enough and by doing this we are damaging her sense of Self. We take away from her the pleasure of discovering something on her own and the feeling of being a capable and competent learner.
4) Infants need time, time to concentrate on such an important task without any distraction (e.g. TV in the background)
What are some examples of providing aid for free movement?
So our aim is to provide an environment to aid free movement rather than rushing the development meaning our purpose has more to do with psychological aspect rather than physical reason. our aim is to aid child’s self formation into an independent being.
1) Low bed with a mirror alongside and mobiles hung from the top, see this post for a detailed illustration (or a low bed and activity mat with a mirror and mobiles as two separate areas)
2)Time on stomach to strengthen the muscles of back, arms, and buttocks
3)Activity mat, floor time, low shelf, see this post
4)When the child is mobile and can move about in the environment it is important to make sure all the rooms that she has access to (entire house) are safe. When we know the baby is safe out of our sight, it is important to allow them to be on their own even if it is a few minutes at the beginning. This helps the baby to realise they can manage without an adult around all the time, this is an important step towards a healthy adjustment in life in the process of becoming an independent being.
5) Always remember that the joy of achievement in getting into a sitting position or standing or crawling or walking should belong to the child, therefore instead of propping her up, provide an environment that supports her movement. for instance, when a child is learning to pull themselves up, have items in the environment that she can use for this purpose. e.g an ottoman, a couch, a sturdy coffee table, a bar alongside the wall, a sturdy low shelf in her room. a very sturdy Walker wagon can assist her when learning to walk. Kylie from Howwemontessori explains in-depth in this post and this post what sort of wagon best supports this.
As soon as S was able to scoot over to get to these steps she persisted so much to crawl up and within a few days she mastered it. From then on she practiced this skill many time during the day, up and down, was so amazing to watch her persisting with difficulties, what a great way to gain trust and confidence in one’s own ability to achieve something.
6)Once the baby learns to walk independently, it is the start of a whole new relationship with the environment and detachment from parents. She learns to accept life’s inevitable attachment and separation as natural processes. This is when we should not get tempted to carry her around. Instead we should take daily walks together, e.g. in the nature, allowing the child to take their time to stop and inspect everything and give them as much time as they need to discover their surrounding.
7)Allow your baby to explore the environment with bare feet, in this way they can have rich tactile experiences. When we cover children with clothing from top to toe we take away the opportunities for sensorial exploration of the world.
Lillard explains that what an independent walker gained through such coordinated movement of hands and body is a deep understanding of the world and a positive view of herself as a contributor in the environment (I can move in the environment and I can affect it).
When reflecting on the content of this concept, I can say that there are two things that I could have done differently. I believe every parents need to experience many aspects of parenting in their own way, and I am no exception. You as a parent hear so many different wanted or unwanted advise from different people and it is up to you to decide what is best. What is important is that you make informed decision and reflect on the outcome and learn from the experience . For me, I will be paying more attention to clothing. When S was a newborn I usually dressed her in onesies with feet to keep her feet warm as they always felt so cold. This was an advise that I took thinking that her body will remain warm. When she got a bit older I started to get her into shorts without legs. I could see that her attempt to get her legs under her tummy to get into a crawling position was less frustrating for her as a result of that change and she was alot more encouraged to move her legs and her whole body.
S was not very content when she was on her back or tummy in the beginning months. Therefore, she had minimal floor time during this time. Every time she was on the floor she cried so badly that you could tell she is hurting. She wasn’t fussing, she was actually screaming. My mummy instinct always was to pick her up and comfort her. Therefore, she was carried around most of the time. I knew about the importance of freedom of movement and that the more time she spends on the floor the more opportunities she will have to practice movement but I could not let my baby suffer and I/her doctor could not find out why she was crying so badly. It wasn’t until she learnt to sit that she actually enjoyed doing things on her own, she could sit and do an activity and was very content for a considerable amount of time. Later on when I started giving her solid as main food I discovered that she is allergic to dairy and nuts. That was when it hit me why she was unsettled on her tummy/back. I was consuming so much dairy and nuts in my daily diet and that could have passed on to her through my milk. That is why she was alot happier being held upright (this is just my own speculation). When S was about 7 months old we traveled for seven weeks to see my family who live abroad. During this time she was carried around all the time. I have a large extended family and everyone wanted to have a cuddle so she basically had not much floor time. Although I believe that S was more like a sitter/observer than a crawler (when she was around 7 months old, she is so active now that she can crawl) as explained by Lillard in p.80 of her book, she could have benefited immensely from spending more time on the floor. “Sitters” are those babies who despite providing aid for free movement, they prefer to explore their world visually rather than actively. They may not be very active physically but they take so much information in. Sitters usually develop language skills early and since they can not acquire all skills at once, they opt out for language acquisition rather than locomotion skills. But I am very much pleased that I never rushed S to reach those “milestones” and I trusted her to get there in her own time at her own pace.